Black Press Education Minister Rob Fleming, Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark and Premier John Horgan at a funding announcement.

Thinking about private school? Think again, says education minister

B.C. Education Minister sees cause for restored faith in public education

Expect your faith in public education to be restored, says B.C.’s new Education Minister Rob Fleming.

Kelowna teachers, said the former-critic turned education minister, have done a good job keeping learning outcomes at a high level in spite of continual conflict with the government. Now that they’re being supported, Fleming believes it will only get better.

“There’s good will on all sides here,” said Fleming. “There’s a lot of fatigue among parents, school administrators, teachers and school staff and it’s time to move beyond an era where government was downgrading public education as any kind of priority.”

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The government’s first priority is to make sure students of all different learning types have resources and there are smaller class sizes in learning early grades.

To meet those aims, districts are hiring 3,500 new teachers. In the Central Okanagan School District 131 new teaching positions have been created in the last year and 59 new classroom spaces will be open when school bells ring again next week.

“This is the largest single hiring of teachers in B.C. in a single school year,” Fleming said. “Kelowna and other districts have done a tremendous job recruiting talent to the districts, it’s a tall order to have everything settled for day-one.”

Fleming said he believes these changes will restore faith in the public school system that eroded in years past.

“I think in terms of what’s different, it’s that we have a new government that is interested in collaboration and co-operation and working closely with school districts and not in confrontation and disastrous court battles,” he said.

“We’ve gone from being the second best funded public school system in kindergarten to Grade 12 to the second worst under the Liberals. We have to turn the page.”

The Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank, releases regular enrollment surveys on independent schools, and noted that from 2001 to 2015 there was a 24.4 per cent uptick in enrollment in B.C. Nationally the rise was only 16 per cent.

In a previous interview in the Capital News, a representative for Aberdeen Hall Preparatory School said in the four years leading to 2015 they had seen from a 10 to 20 per cent increase in enrollment each year.

Fleming said that trend is turning around.

“Independent schools flourished due to the lockouts that were a hallmark for the former government and that created a lot of uncertainty among parents,” he said.

“In 2014 with the longest labour shutdown in B.C history, (independent school enrollment) shot up, but in 2015 it changed a lot,” he said. “Now we’re starting to see enrollment grow significantly in the public system and in the independent schools we have not see enrollment grow.”

In addition to restoring funding to areas stripped in previous contract negotiations, the NDP has said it’s looking into reducing the time it takes a child to get a learning assessment, which will require training for teachers, psychologists, and other specialists.